Microplastics Self-commitments are of little use

Microplastics Self-commitments are of little use

Microplastics Self-commitments are of little use

According to a study, tons of microplastics from cosmetics as well as detergents and cleaning agents still end up in the wastewater after voluntary commitments by manufacturers. According to a recently published study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology on behalf of the Association for Nature Conservation (Nabu), an estimated 980 tons would come together each year. Smallest plastic particles found their way into rivers and seas because sewage treatment plants did not hold them back completely; In addition, they also come with sewage sludge on fields and thus into the environment, it was said.

So far, the industry has concentrated on avoiding microplastics on solid friction bodies from products such as peelings, said Nabu expert Katharina Istel. Solid plastic particles are no longer used in toothpastes, according to the Industrial Association for Personal Care and Detergents (IKW), and the amount has been greatly reduced in other products such as special cleaners.

In Germany, many manufacturers have voluntarily committed to dispense with the friction bodies, so-called microbeads – with a focus on products that are intended to be rinsed again. The situation is different with items such as hairspray or nail polish, which initially remain on the consumer, but at least partially end up in the drain when they are later washed.

Study author Jürgen Bertling told the German Press Agency with regard to Microbeads that he saw “no reason to keep the definition so narrow”. According to the Fraunhofer survey, microplastics are still used in other functions: for example to cloud products, to be able to use them to form films, and as fillers. Against this background, Nabu called for a general EU microplastic ban in cosmetics and cleaning agents. Particles up to a maximum of five millimeters in size are referred to as microplastics.

But even other ingredients that are difficult to break down are hardly recognizable for laypeople, criticize the conservationists. It is about certain chemical compounds, some of which are considered difficult to break down: so-called dissolved polymers. According to the study, these enter the wastewater in much larger quantities than microplastics. The authors assume 46,900 tons per year. The substances act, for example, as a softener, dirt repellent and emulsifier.

In view of the high input quantities and the unpredictable risks for the environment, even water-soluble polymers that are difficult to degrade would have to be regulated via European chemicals legislation, demanded Bertling. The question of how long a substance remains in the environment must be given much more weight than criteria such as the size of particles.

So far, according to Bertling, polymers, including microplastics, have been classified as “hardly harmful to the environment”. According to experts, this is also due to the fact that most substances have not yet been tested in detail for their environmental compatibility.

On request, the IKW called the fact that the Fraunhofer study advocated a joint consideration of microplastics and dissolved polymers as “not justified” and referred to different sizes, structures and physico-chemical properties. In addition, “no negative effects” of dissolved polymers in environmentally relevant concentrations are known to date, and they also do not contribute to marine pollution.

Some experts see it differently: Regardless of whether solid particles or “liquid plastics” – the distinction is “splitting hairs”, both are similarly dangerous, said environmental chemist Gesine Witt (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences) recently in the program “Plusminus”. The Nabu describes cleaning products with labels such as the Blue Angel and certified natural cosmetics as a “better choice” from an environmental point of view.

An earlier study by the Fraunhofer Institute had shown that a total of 330,000 tons of microplastics enter the environment in this country each year. The biggest source is therefore tire wear. In contrast to cosmetics, detergents and cleaning agents, which in many cases intentionally end up in the wastewater, input from other sources has so far been generally considered to be hardly avoidable.